De Blasio: Pre-K seats in place but funding needed

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to children in a pre-kindergarten class at P.S. 130 in Manhattan, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. De Blasio stopped by the classroom after a news conference about his plans for universal pre-kindergarten in New York. Photo Credit: AP

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Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday the city has received proposals from education providers for 29,000 prekindergarten seats -- 8,000 more than are needed this fall to roll out his signature campaign pledge.

But to foot the bill, the mayor says, he still needs Albany to green-light a tax hike on income over $500,000, calling that the only sure way to guarantee the success of the program.

"We can and will secure the space. We can and will hire the professionals. And that, all of that can only happen if we get reliable funding and sufficient funding. The practical elements are in place and ready to go. The funding is not yet," de Blasio said at a news conference at PS 130 in Manhattan's Chinatown, one of the 282 public schools that has proposed housing the pre-K classes.

The pre-K proposals came in from all five boroughs. In addition to the 282 public schools, 647 community-based organizations submitted proposals to offer the schooling. Many are in poor neighborhoods and have a shortage of available pre-K, de Blasio's staff said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and de Blasio remain at odds over whether Albany should allow the tax hike. Cuomo says he'd pay for statewide pre-K out of the state's coffers and has opposed de Blasio's tax plan with increasing intensity. De Blasio insists on the tax increase.

"It's my job to stand up for the people of this city," de Blasio said. "I am open to any pathway forward, but it has to involve reliable funding for five years."

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But he added: "We need our friends in Albany to do their part and give us the ability to raise our own resources from our own city to get this done."

Tuesday, de Blasio minimized the rift, saying he and Cuomo have been friends "for almost 20 years." He said it's "good news" that they don't disagree on the need for pre-K, just the funding.

"We're not talking about if, we're talking about the how and the when and the details. And that is a good and healthy thing," de Blasio said.

De Blasio rejected suggestions that he's insisting on the tax despite the governor's proposal in order to generate revenue for unrelated expenses.

"Reputationally, I think it's pretty clear that I've said this in a way that is really compelling in terms of the fact that I would have to keep my word," de Blasio said.

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